Garmin Fitness Trackers Review 2016

The Fitness tracker industry has become hugely competitive in recent years. Yet, two leaders have emerged to dominate the pack. The first, FitBit, were the innovators. The second, Garmin, have come on strong since 2013 to provide a worthy challenge to FitbIt for those demanding innovation, style and quality. In this article, we’ll delve into the world of Garmin Fitness trackers. In the process, we’ll discover which is the best Garmin watch, we’ll provide reviews of the Garmin Vivofit, Vivoactive and Vivosmart, and we’ll put Garmin head to head with FitBit.

About Garmin


Garmin Ltd is an American multinational operating out of Switzerland. Garmin specializes in developing GPS based technology. The company was founded in 1989 and was originally known as ProNav. The first product was a GPS unit. As well as their range of wrist wear, Garmin’s product line features laptop GPS and mobile apps, fishfinders, automotive GPS, handheld GPS, and marine GPS.

The Garmin Wearable Range

Garmin’s wrist based technology range has expanded rapidly over the past few years. The current range includes the following watches and fitness / activity monitors:

  • Approach S4
  • Approach S2
  • Garmin Swim
  • Epix
  • Tacti Bravo
  • Quatix 3
  • D2 Bravo
  • D2
  • Foretrex 401

Reviewing the Garmin Fitness Tracker Range

FitBit may still be the first name to come to mind when people think of fitness trackers, but Garmin is coming on strong. In fact, in the minds of many, Garmin have got the edge when it comes to style, usability and functionality. They are also able to compete with FitBit when it comes to price point.

​In this section we’ll review the big 3 models in the Garmin activity monitor range.

Garmin Vivoactive

Garmin Vivo Active

The Garmin Vivoactive is lightweight, thin and comfortable on your wrist. It has a full color, sunlight readable touch screen. The face of the device is large but, because, you are constantly swiping it, is prone to smudges and finger marks. It has a modern, attractive look and you are able to customize the band.

The Garmin Vivoactive will track your 24/7 activity. It will also monitor your cardiovascular workouts and it can also act as a Smartwatch. In terms of activity tracking, it will monitor your steps, calories burned and distance traveled. It provides you with a daily steps goal. It also has autogoal, which automatically adjust your steps goal based on your recent activity. The device also has an inactivity monitor which vibrates if you have been sedentary for too long.

The Vivoactive will automatically log your sleep. However the sleep analysis is pretty lightweight.

​In terms of monitoring your cardio workout, the Vivoactive has eight built-in workout apps: running, cycling, swimming,walking, golf, indoor running, indoor cycling and indoor walking. It shows your cardio data as you are training. For running that means time, distance, pace, cadence and laps. For swimming, it records laps, distance, stroke count, and calories. The Vivoactive is water proof up to 50 meters.

​You are able to connect the Vivoactive to external sensors such as chest based heart rate monitors and foot pods. As a GPS watch, it will map your running and cycling activity. It also gives you access to the Russian form of GPS, known as GLONASS. The downside is that GPS puts a real strain on the battery life of the unit. In watch mode, you’ll get 3 weeks, but just 10 hours of battery time on GPS mode.

​As a Smartwatch, the Vivoactive will provide you with your social media notifications, a full day’s calendar, weather and the ability to control music playback. Garmin are working with a whole host of developers to bring more widgets to market that can be used with their monitors, so these device are only getting smarter.


  • Lightweight, thin and comfortable
  • Full color screen with ambient light sensor
  • 8 cardio workout programs
  • 24/7 activity tracking


  • Construction is not overly robust
  • Light on sleep analysis

Garmin Vivosmart

Garmin Vivosmart

The Garmin Vivosmart is extremely slimline and lightweight. It is made of silicone and is very smooth, with no ridges. It easily snaps on and off your arm. It comes in six colors. The Vivosmart does not have a clickable button on the side. To operate the device, you tap on the screen twice. The display then operates as a touch screen. The display is OLED and measures 1.3 inches x 0.14 inches. It has a low resolution at 128 x 16 pixels, but it is easy to see and easy to read.

The first display is time and date. The next swipe takes you to your actual steps taken. Next you will see your auto steps goal based on your daily activity level. The next screen will show your move bar. After one hour of inactivity it will vibrate to let you know that it is time to get up and move. It will display the calories you have burnt, and how many miles you have traveled. It also provides a media control setting for your music.

The Vivosmart connects to your technology via Bluetooth. It will vibrate every time you get a message. You can also receive email notifications, Facebook notifications, and calendar notifications. On the menu bar there is a stopwatch, and sleep mode. However, unlike FitBit, you do not have an auto sleep mode. You have to manually input when you are going to sleep.

The Vivosmart is water resistant up to 50 meters. There is no heart rate monitor on this device. There is also only one alarm on this device.


  • Slimline and lightweight
  • OLED Display
  • Very stylish interface
  • Provides social media message notifications


  • No heart rate monitor
  • Difficult to see screen in the sun
  • Only has one alarm
Garmin Vivofit

Garmin Vivofit

The Garmin Vivofit is a fitness wrist band with a transflective display. It comes with a one year battery life. The Vivofit will track your steps, your calories burned, distance traveled, as well as sleep tracking. The device has a red time to move bar on the display, but it does not signal inactivity. So unless you are looking at the display you will not be compelled to action.

The Garmin Vivofit fitness tracker is waterproof up to 50 meters. The transflective display on the device is very good, allowing you to clearly see the display even in bright sunlight. However, there is no back light, making it hard to see in the dark. Bands come in a range of colors and are easily replaceable.

The Garmin VivoFit heart rate monitor is a separate unit that can be purchased to pair with the VivoFit. It is a chest strap monitor. This will provide an accurate reading of your pulse rate.

The Garmin Vivofit activity tracker will not automatically sync to your technology. You have to manually do this by opening the Garmin app, pushing down a button and then waiting for everything to snyc. This happens automatically with the FitBit range of devices.

Garmin have recently come out with the Vivofit 2. This new and improved model has a back light, it has an audible time to move alert and it will automatically sync with your mobile device. What’s more, it is the same price as the Vivofit. It is clearly the better option.


  • Transflective display
  • Very lightweight
  • Waterproof to 50 meters
  • Can be paired with Garmin vivo
  • Fit heart rate monitor


  • No auto sync
  • No back light
  • No audible move alarm

The Garmin Connect App

The hub of all of the Garmin activity monitors is, of course, the app that translates and interprets your activity data. The Garmin Connect app has gone through some major upgrades in recent times and is now right up there with the best. The home screen will display your steps and sleep time prominently, allowing you to see your day at a glance. Below that you can also see your active calories for that day, any activity your recorded for that day, your calorie deficit or surplus and how many calories you consumed in the day.

When you go deeper into your sleep analysis you can see how did compared to your goal, how long you were in deep sleep, light sleep and how long you were awake. You can also see a graph of your sleep.

​Under activities, if you click through you can see all of your activity data. It will provide attractive, easy to read highlights of your workout and then provide detailed breakdown of all of your data. You then get a range of charts for things like heart rate, elevation, pace and cadence.

​On the leader board, you can compare your results to those of your friends in terms of steps, running, cycling and swimming. The calendar will show you your daily activities along an analysis of how you did on your steps goal. Under health stats, you can get a detailed breakdown of your data regarding sleeping, weight, calories and calories in and out.

​The Garmin Connect app is very easy to use. Garmin have done a good job of concentrating it’s efforts on the things that most users really care about - steps, sleep, calories.

FitBit Surge VS Garmin VivoSmart: Similarities

  • Both wrist worn devices
  • Both have touch screen displays
  • Both have 5-7 day battery life
  • Both have iOS, Android, web apps
  • Both have Bluetooth LE and USB
  • Both water resistant up to 50m
  • Both track basic fitness data and heart rate
  • Both have activity tagging and stop watch
  • Both have a music playback control
  • Both have a watch function

Surge Advantages

The FitBit Surge has built-in GPS, which means that all of your workouts will be recorded in one application. FitBit, however, does not have a designated pre-set for cycling. Surge does have the better overall mobile application. It also has a better locking mechanism. Whereas the Vivosmart requires manual input, the Surge has auto sleep detection. The Surge also has a better system for handling silent alarms. Overall the surge provides a more seamless, streamlined experience than you’ll get from the Vivosmart.

Garmin Advantages

The Garmin is a good fitness device that is very capable. It doesn’t have the greatest software, but you can be assured that your Fitness data is on point and reliable. The device is compatible with a range of external heart rate monitors. It is more reliable in this area than the Surge. The Vivosmart also relays more social media notifications than does the Surge.

The Vivosmart is not as bulky as the Surge, making it more comfortable to wear.

The Winner: Garmin Vivosmart

The Garmin Vivosmart is . . .

  • Cheaper
  • Is chest strap heart rate monitor compatible
  • Has extra features
  • Has a better design

​We believe that the Garmin Vivofit is the best Garmin watch on the market today.


The Garmin range of fitness activity trackers and fitness sports watches provide a viable alternative to the dominance of FitBit. The three Garmin mainstays - the Vivoactive, the Vivosmart and the Vivofit - are all very stylish, streamlined devices. They are backed up by an app that is getting better all the time. Garmin’s partnering with a number of developers to add widget technology will continue to keep their products cutting edge. Click here to read our review for the best fitness trackers and this article in which we compare the FitBit vs Jawbone devices.

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